TEHRAN, Iran – President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad hinted Monday that Iran was considering withdrawing from the worldwide Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty and said he did not think the U.N. Security Council would impose sanctions on Iran.
"Those who speak about sanctions would be damaged more" than Iran, he told a news conference. "But no particular event will happen, don't worry."
He also renewed his criticism of Israel, calling it a "fake regime" that cannot continue to exist. Israel has long identified Iran as its biggest threat, and these concerns have grown amid repeated calls by Ahmadinejad for Israel's destruction.
Ahmadinejad also questioned the need for talks with the United States about neighboring Iraq.
He said Iran would reconsider its compliance with the treaty and membership in the International Atomic Energy Agency if they continued to be of no benefit to the country.
His comments came four days before Friday's expiration of a Security Council deadline for Iran to suspend its enrichment of uranium, a process that can produce fuel for nuclear reactors material for nuclear warheads.
Iran has rejected the demand, arguing it is entitled to the peaceful use of enrichment as a signatory to the treaty.
The IAEA, the U.N. nuclear watchdog agency, has accused Iran of failing to answer all questions about its nuclear program and reported the country to the Security Council for noncompliance with its demands.
"What has more than 30 years of membership in the agency given us?" Ahmadinejad asked.
"Working in the framework of the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty and the agency is our concrete policy," he added. "(But) if we see that they are violating our rights, or they don't want to accept (our rights), well, we will reconsider."
The United States says Iran is using a civilian nuclear program as a cover for producing weapons. Iran denies that, saying its program is designed only to generate electrical power.
Earlier this month, Iran announced that for the first time it had enriched uranium with the use of 164 centrifuges, a step toward large-scale enrichment — which would be necessary to for making nuclear fuel or weapons.
Ahmadinejad also raised the issue of talks with Washington about Iraq.
In March, the United States said it was ready for talks with Iran about its help with quelling the chaos in Iraq, where a Shiite Muslim majority with close ties to Tehran has a majority share in the government.
"Many times they (Americans) sent messages asking for help on security in Iraq. Iraqi leaders also asked the same. Unfortunately, they did not have a good attitude in this regard. We believe that with the formation of new government, there is no need," Ahmadinejad said.
In other remarks, Ahmadinejad again focused on Israel.
"We say that this fake regime (Israel) cannot not logically continue to live," he said.
The Iranian president has long campaigned against Israel, saying in October that the Jewish state should be "wiped off the map." He has said Europe should find a home for Israelis, who should not live on Palestinian land.
"Open the doors (of Europe) and let the Jews go back to their own countries," he said Monday.
He added that Europeans should jettison their "anti-Semitism" to enable Israelis to "return" to their continent, and "allow Palestinians to decide their own fate and live freely."
His remarks came a day after interim Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert urged the international community to work against Iran's nuclear program, saying Tehran's ambitions threaten not only Israel but all of Western civilization.
Israel has long identified Iran as its biggest threat, and these concerns have grown amid repeated calls by Ahmadinejad for Israel's destruction.
"From the point of view of seriousness, this tops the state of Israel's list, it is potentially an existential threat," a government statement quoted Olmert telling the weekly Cabinet meeting.
"The Iranian nuclear program should concern many countries, especially those with global responsibility," Olmert said, adding that the international front against Iran should include the United States, Europe and other Western countries.
An Israeli commission said in a partially declassified report that Israel is concerned that Iran's nuclear ambitions could tempt other, unidentified, Mideast countries to seek to develop atomic weapons. The report recommends that Israel maintain its policy of "nuclear ambiguity" — neither denying nor acknowledging whether it has atomic weapons.
Earlier, a top Iranian official said Tehran is prepared to freeze its uranium enrichment for a short time, but this should not be construed as a readiness to abandon it.
"Iran would not have a problem with a short-term suspension (of uranium enrichment). But the difficulty is that the West and the United States would use that as an excuse for extending" the suspension, said Hasan Rowhani, a member of the Supreme National Security Council.
Rowhani's statement was not immediately endorsed by other officials and it was unclear if he spoke for the government.
"Our red line in Iran's nuclear case is that Iran's rights must be guaranteed and we must be able to enrich (uranium)," Rowhani said.
Ahmadinejad often gives long, rambling speeches but Monday was one of the rare occasions when he allowed foreign journalists to question him. He seemed to enjoy the encounter, joking and bantering with reporters.